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The Working on country program, recently expanded into the area of Fletcher's Lake in New South Wales, has seen both the community and the environment experience a number of benefits.
The program, which sees participants manage land and freshwater, including a small section of the Murray Darling Basin, has been life changing for some members of the local community.
Senior ranger of the local Barkindji Maraura ranger group, Dameion Kennedy, together with the Barkindji Maraura Elders, the traditional owners of the area, have set out to train local Indigenous men to work on country in response to a number of social issues linked to high unemployment amongst local youth. 'There’s a lot of work to be done out on country and for the young blokes to be part of that gives them a sense of ownership and belonging and steers them away from all the bad stuff that’s going on,' Mr Kennedy said. 'We want to see more local Indigenous boys who respect their culture and heritage getting these jobs.'
Junior rangers Dennis King, 22, and Howard Harris, 34, joined the Barkindji Maraura ranger group after completing a Certificate II and III in Horticulture.
'Before the programme I was involved in drugs and alcohol and was really just moving towards jail,' Mr King said. 'Getting out on country and interacting with our culture has just opened this big pathway for us and the town, which can now see a future for everybody.'
'It feels good to have this job. It really turned my life around and the community now looks up to us as role models for the younger kids,' said Mr Harris.
Drawing on Indigenous knowledge of country, the Barkindji Maraura rangers have helped create important environmental flows, repaired pest and weed damage and damage caused by recreational use of protected sites. They also regularly undertake monitoring and assessment of the local environment. Keeping kids in school is another focus of the Barkindji Maraura Ranger Group, which is involving local schools in their conservation work.